Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
a place in this world where criticizing Islamist militancy is
blasphemy. Imagine a country where advocating inter-faith understanding
is sedition. Imagine a country where talking about establishment of
relations with Israel is treason. People
are punished for crime, for creating anarchy and for putting humanity
into horrifying terror. But, could we ever believe that someone would
be arrested, tortured and imprisoned just for being in favor of global
peace, inter-faith dialogue and ending religious hatred? Yes, all this
happened during the past five year rule of BNP-Jamaat Coalition in Bangladesh.
From various press reports, it is already crystal clear to the entire
world as to some politician virtually got into looting business by
using their power or political muscle. Many of those culprits are
already in prison and more are expected to find the same path. When
there is no doubt about the notoriety of dishonesty by BNP-Jamaat
government, it is difficult to understand as to how the present interim
plus government in Bangladesh continues to bear the burden of a hated
case, which had been brought against me for committing ‘crime’ of
criticizing rise of Islamist militancy; for publishing investigative
articles on the growth of radical forces within the religious
educational institutions and for advocating end of religious hatred.
This story began on November 29, 2003 when I was supposed to board a Bangkok bound flight to attend an international conference. Officials at the immigration desk at Zia International Airport in Dhaka told me that they have specific information from sources that I was carrying sensitive information on Bangladesh
to abroad. I was surprised, shocked stunned. They searched my luggage
and finally discovered some copies of Weekly Blitz, introductory
brochure of Blitz Publications, cash US$ 3,000 and my personal
belongings. I looked at the eyes of the officials from various
intelligence agencies, who were already present there during searching
my luggage. They all were seen to be completely frustrated and shaky
after not been able to discover any alleged ‘sensitive information’ or
‘sensitive materials’ inside my luggage. At this junction, one of the
senior officials of immigration department phoned someone possibly at
much higher position and informed him that there was nothing illegal or
suspicious with me. He also said, the only problem is I was going to
attend a conference in Israel.
official was asked to wait for some time before there could be a ‘high
level decision’ on my issue. Later I came to know that, the former Home
Minister Alrtaf Hussain Chowdhury (now in jail on corruption charges)
and former Home Secretary Omar Farooq (Member of Jamaat-e-Islami
Bangladesh) showed personal interest in influencing everyone within the
government in getting me arrested and later bringing sedition charge
against me. Why? Because, both Altaf Chowdhury and Omar Farooq are well
connected to radical Islamist forces in Bangladesh.
I was arrested by the immigration police and handed over to Airport
Police Station’s officer-in-charge Muhammed Abdul Hanif. Before taking
me from the immigration department, Hanif received all of my
possessions including cash US$ 3,000 from the immigration authorities.
Right after I was taken in Airport Police custody, assistant commissioner of police of Dhaka’s north zone came and with all his anger told that I deserved to be charged with sedition to attempting to visit Israel. I told him that, even if it was any offense to visit Israel,
it could only come under the minor Passport Violation law. But, how did
he judge me to be charged with sedition. He said, “You Zionists deserve
to get proper lesson”.
of the story is known to millions of my supporters around the world. I
was placed on 7-days police remand. Interrogators applied all forms of
harsh methods in questioning me to discover an ‘Israeli Spy’ in me. One
of the interrogators broke my leg bone with field hockey stick. They
did not hesitate in torturing me with electric shock and other forms of
severe torture. But, I repeatedly told my interrogators that the only
reason I was traveling to Israel was to attend a Peace Conference in Tel Aviv. They told me, it was not allowed for any Bangladeshi national to visit Israel
as the passport of the republic prohibits its citizen from visiting
that country. I questioned them, why not? Bangladeshi passport did not
allow its citizen from visiting Taiwan even in recent past. But, thousands of Bangladeshis, including several government officials have visited Taiwan, which has finally brought some good news for country’s economy. Now, Dhaka and Taipei are enjoying excellent bilateral relations, despite the fact that Taiwan is yet to be recognized by Bangladesh.
I told the interrogators that Israel is one of the first five nations to recognize Bangladesh right after the independence. Where is the logic for Dhaka to refrain from extending hands of cooperation to Tel Aviv (at that time, Tel Aviv was Israel’s capital). I also told them, Bangladesh established diplomatic relations with Pakistan
in 1975, a nation whose forces raped our women and killed millions of
innocent people in 1971, just four year before we embraced them with
full diplomatic relations. If we could tolerate a rapist and killer
nation like Pakistan, why not we have good relations with Israel? Did Israel commit anything wrong to Bangladesh? Did it ever do anything bad to our nation?
were not ready to listen to my points, although some of them, later
told me that, they too did not understand as to why Bangladesh should not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
completion of the remand period, I was sent to Dhaka Central Jail
inside a cell which is mainly built for mentally insane. Later on after
the publication of an editorial in The New York Times, Bangladesh
authorities shifted me to another isolated cell with hardened
criminals. I was denied all sorts of medical facilities including
treatment to deliberating case of glaucoma. Only a 40 watt light was
inside the dirty and damp room while there was no ceiling fan or other
basic amenities. I had to tolerate tremendous and offensive odor from
the toilet pan which had merely been cleaned for reason unknown.
Pro-Laden and pro-Saddam prisoners inside the jail attempted to
assassin me a number of times wherefrom I narrowly escaped at least
twice. Pro-BNP-Jamaat terrorists inside the prison were also extremely
allergic on me as because they were not ready to tolerate any secular
mind as their jail mate.
the painful seventeen months in prison, my family did everything in
getting bail from the lower court as well as the higher judiciary, but
my luck never clicked, as the judges were also not ready to give a
sympathetic hearing to my case. They too were mislead by the false
propaganda by the former government and its motivated media. I was
particularly shocked when the government denied bailing me out on
parole to attend the funeral services of my mother, who died of massive
heart attack due to tremendous mental constraint.
along with the members of my family, one man was never ready to give up
his precious efforts in getting me out of the prison. This is Dr.
Richard Benkin, my Jewish brother. My brother did almost everything
possible on his part in knocking the doors of influential policy makers
in the United States
as well as other important people in the international media in
attaining their support in freeing me. Unfortunately, most of the
so-called human rights groups maintained tight lip on my case, while
organizations like Pen, Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect
Journalists, Middle East Web and American Jewish Committee did
everything in creating voice in my favor. Finally with the generous
support and efforts from Congressman Mark Steven Kirk and my Jewish
brother Richard Benkin, I was released on bail on April 30, 2005.
has been more than two years that I was released from the prison. But,
despite the fact of passing of a Resolution in the US Congress as well
as European Parliament, the government in Bangladesh
is yet to drop the false sedition, treason and blasphemy charges
against me. Moreover, the former officer-in-charge of Airport Police
Station, Muhammed Abdul Hanif simply misappropriated my cash US$ 3,000
and there is no action against this corrupt police officer till date,
simply because, he is protected by a very influential official in the
services, who is Hanif’s elder brother. My wife and I filed a number of
complaints with various offices of the government seeking action
against Hanif as well as those who bombed and attacked me and my office
on various occasion, but, there is just a broad silence from the
government side for reason unknown. My office was bombed in July 2006
by Islamist militant group as well as pro-BNP thugs physically
assaulted me in October 2006. But, despite lodging of formal cases on
both the occasions, there had been no action from the government.
times I questioned myself as to how long I shall have to bear the
burden of such notorious allegation. But, up to now, there is no reply
to it. Should the present interim plus government in Bangladesh
continue the false allegations and charges against me, which had been
falsely brought by the former rulers, who are nothing but bunch of
corrupts and culprits? Who will reply to my questions?